Everybody knows that sleep is important. What some people may not know is that different stages affect how our performance on a daily basis. Sometimes we can become sleep deprived, even if we’re sleeping because we’re missing out on some of those deeper stages of sleep. Stage four sleep or the deepest stage of sleep is restorative. It reboots or cleanses the body a little bit so that we can function at a better level. If we miss out on that stage of sleep, we tend to have an increase in anxiety and stress. Interestingly enough, anxiety and stress tend to make us miss out on more of our sleep. And we get into this nasty cycle sometimes.
What about other forms of sleep deprivation? You already know from your own experience, that if you don’t get enough sleep, and if that continues over a period of time, you start to notice some effects, probably the most obvious is the short-term effects.
So let’s talk about what some of those short-term effects are. First, the most obvious one and the one that we most often notice ourselves is a decrease in our attentiveness and performance and our ability to stay engaged in what it is that we’re doing during the day. Losing even as much as an hour and a half off of our regular sleep schedule can decrease our performance by up to 30%, along the same lines that decrease in attentiveness and ability to focus can start to impact our memory and our cognitive functioning.
Have you ever noticed that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re not as pleasant to be around? When people don’t get enough sleep, they might be more grumpy. This starts to put a strain on relationships that can also result in more conflicts or moodiness, arguments, and disagreements. All of the fun things that come when we’re not quite on top of our own game. Sometimes we call this quality of life. Quality of life tends to go down when we are losing out on our sleep.
The national highway traffic safety administration estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least a hundred thousand automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,500 fatalities.
So what about the long-term effects? This is where it gets really scary because it’s going to impact our health and our wellbeing in a more significant manner if we consistently get bad sleep. Some of the effects that have been listed include high blood pressure, heart attack or heart failure, stroke, and obesity. These occur because when we deny our body sleep, we are not giving it a chance to reset and cleanse.
The most basic thing we can do to improve our sleep habits is to work on our sleep hygiene. If we take good care of our sleeping habits, we can improve our sleep efficiency and make sure that we’re getting enough sleep. The first thing that I would encourage you to take a look at is your schedule. Are you actually getting to bed at a decent time? Research suggests that waking up at a consistent time also improves your sleep patterns. Most of the experts out there are saying anywhere from six to 10 hours for adults is about what we need to shoot for. And that varies depending on health concerns and other life factors.
Adolescents tend to need a little more sleep than adults do. They’ve still got a developing brain and that sleep helps to support that brain development. As a first step, take a look at your schedule and make sure that you’re giving yourself the time you need to sleep. Now, look at the physical environment. Is it dark enough? If you’ve got a lot of light coming in, the light will enter your eye even through a closed eyelid and it will trigger something that’s called the retinal filmic response. It’s tied into your thalamus. It’s tied to your brain chemistry. You want to have it dark, not just because it’s easier to go to sleep but also because that alters your chemistry a little bit. Having a dark room, that is cool and comfortable helps with your quality of sleep. Being in a quiet environment is also important for good sleep hygiene. If you can get yourself to sleep in a quiet dark room, instead of one where there’s some ambient lighter noise, you’re probably going to get a little better sleep. Some of these recommendations are obvious, but you want to have a comfortable room, a good mattress, and a comfortable pillow. If it’s not comfortable, you’re going to be tossing and turning all night which can be disruptive to your sleep. A lot of fitness trackers will actually track your sleep and by wearing one of those to bed, you might get some baseline information that will help you to know how many times you wake up during the night.
Alcohol tends to disrupt sleep patterns. The more you can limit your alcohol intake, the better sleep you’re going to have, which is counterintuitive to some people because many people use alcohol to help them get to sleep. Staying away from alcohol and caffeine is definitely likely to improve your sleep patterns. Caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours. This means that if you ingest caffeine, five, six hours later, you’re still going to have about half of that potency in your system. The recommendation coming from some of the research is that you limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams before noon, assuming that you’re on a regular sleep pattern.
Finally, blue light that comes from the screens that we watch, like the television, for example, or the tablet or smartphone tends to activate our brain more. Limiting our screen time, especially before bed, is an important factor in improving your sleep hygiene.